| Tales from Shakespeare|
|by Charles and Mary Lamb|
|First published in 1807, these simple retellings of the plots of Shakespeare's plays have delighted generations of children, while serving as an excellent introduction to the dramas of our greatest playwright. Shakespeare's own language is used as much as possible to accustom children to the English of the Elizabethan age and so make easier their transition to the reading of the plays themselves. Numerous black and white illustrations by Louis Rhead complement the text. Ages 10-14 |
HERE was a certain island in the sea, the only inhabitants of
which were an old man, whose name was Prospero, and his daughter
Miranda, a very beautiful young lady. She came to this island so
young that she had no memory of having seen any other human face
than her father's.
They lived in a cave or cell, made out of a rock; it was divided
into several apartments, one of which Prospero called his study;
there he kept his books, which chiefly treated of magic, a study
at that time much affected by all learned men: and the knowledge
of this art he found very useful to him; for being thrown by a
strange chance upon this island, which had been enchanted by a
witch called Sycorax, who died there a short time before his
arrival, Prospero, by virtue of his art, released many good
spirits that Sycorax had imprisoned in the bodies of large trees,
because they had refused to execute her wicked commands. These
gentle spirits were ever after obedient to the will of Prospero.
Of these Ariel was the chief.
The lively little sprite Ariel had nothing mischievous in his
nature, except that he took rather too much pleasure in
tormenting an ugly monster called Caliban, for he owed him a
grudge because he was the son of his old enemy Sycorax. This
Caliban, Prospero found in the woods, a strange misshapen thing,
far less human in form than an ape: he took him home
 to his cell,
and taught him to speak; and Prospero would have been very kind
to him, but the bad nature which Caliban inherited from his
mother, Sycorax, would not let him learn anything good or useful:
therefore he was employed like a slave, to fetch wood and do the
most laborious offices; and Ariel had the charge of compelling
him to these services.
PROSPERO, MIRANDA, AND CALIBAN
When Caliban was lazy and neglected his work, Ariel (who was
invisible to all eyes but Prospero's) would come slyly and pinch
him, and sometimes tumble him down in the mire; and then Ariel,
in the likeness of an ape, would make mouths at him. Then swiftly
changing his shape, in the likeness of a hedgehog, he would lie
tumbling in Caliban's way, who feared the hedgehog's sharp quills
would prick his bare feet. With a variety of such-like vexatious
tricks Ariel would often torment him, whenever Caliban neglected
the work which Prospero commanded him to do.
Having these powerful spirits obedient to his will, Prospero
could by their means command the winds, and the waves of the sea.
By his orders they raised a violent storm, in the midst of which,
and struggling with the wild sea-waves that every
moment,threatened to swallow it up, he showed his daughter a fine
large ship, which he told her was full of living beings like
themselves. "O my dear father," said she, "if by your art you
have raised this dreadful storm, have pity on their sad distress.
See! the vessel will be dashed to pieces. Poor souls! they will
all perish. If I had power I would sink the sea beneath the
earth, rather than the good ship should be destroyed, with all
the precious souls within her."
"Be not amazed, daughter Miranda," said Prospero; "there is no
harm done. I have so ordered it, that no person in the ship shall
receive any hurt. What I have done has been in care of you, my
dear child. You are ignorant who you are, or where you came from,
and you know no more of me, but that I am your father and live in
this poor cave. Can you remember a time before you came to this
cell? I think you cannot, for you were not then three years of
 "Certainly I can, sir," replied Miranda.
"By what?" asked Prospero; "by any other house or person? Tell me
what you can remember, my child."
Miranda said: "It seems to me like the recollection of a dream.
But had I not once four or five women who attended upon me?"
Prospero answered: "You had, and more. How is it that this still
lives in your mind? Do you remember how you came here?"
sir," said Miranda, "I remember nothing more."
"Twelve years ago, Miranda," continued Prospero, "I was Duke of
Milan, and you were a princess, and my only heir. I had a younger
brother, whose name was Antonio, to whom I trusted everything;
and as I was fond of retirement and deep study I commonly left
the management of my state affairs to your uncle, my false
brother (for so indeed he proved). I, neglecting all worldly
ends, buried among my books, did dedicate whole time to the
bettering of my mind. My brother Antonio, being thus in
possession of my power, began to think himself the duke indeed.
The opportunity I gave him of making himself popular among my
subjects awakened in his bad nature a proud ambition to deprive
me of my dukedom; this he soon effected with the aid of the King
of Naples, a powerful prince, who was my enemy."
"Wherefore," said Miranda, "did they not that hour destroy us?"
"My child," answered her father, "they durst not, so dear was the
love that my people bore me. Antonio carried us on board a ship,
and when we were some leagues out at sea, he forced us into a
small boat, without either tackle, sail, or mast; there he left
us, as he thought, to perish. But a kind lord of my court, one
Gonzalo, who loved me, had privately placed in the boat water,
provisions, apparel, and some books which I prize above my
"O my father," said Miranda, "what a trouble must I have been to
"No, my love,"' said Prospero, "you were a little cherub that
preserve me.Your innocent smiles made me bear up against my
misfortunes. Our food lasted till we landed on this desert
island, since when my chief delight has been in teaching you,
Miranda, and well have you profited by my instructions."
"Heaven thank you, my dear father," said Miranda. "Now pray tell
me, sir, your reason for raising this sea-storm?"
"Know then," said her father, "that by means of this storm, my
enemies, the King of Naples and my cruel brother, are cast ashore
upon this island."
Having so said, Prospero gently touched his daughter with his
magic wand, and she fell fast asleep; for the spirit Ariel just
then presented himself before his master., to give an account of
the tempest, and how he had disposed of the ship's company, and
though the spirits were always invisible to Miranda, Prospero did
not choose she should hear him holding converse (as would seem to
her) with the empty air.
"Well, my brave spirit," said Prospero to Ariel, "how have you
performed your task?"
Ariel gave a lively description of the storm, and of the terrors
of the mariners, and how the king's son, Ferdinand, was the first
who leaped into the sea; and his father thought he saw his dear
son swallowed up by the waves and lost. "But he is safe," said
Ariel, "in a corner of the isle, sitting with his arms folded,
sadly lamenting the loss of the king, his father, whom he
concludes drowned. Not a hair of his head is injured, and his
princely garments, though drenched in the sea-waves, look fresher
"That's my delicate Ariel," said Prospero. "Bring him hither: my
daughter must see this young prince. Where is the king, and my
"I left them," answered Ariel, "searching for Ferdinand, whom
they have little hopes of finding, thinking they saw him perish.
Of the ship's crew not one is missing; though each one thinks
himself the only one saved; and the ship, though invisible to
them, is safe in the harbor."
 "Ariel," said Prospero, "thy charge is faithfully performed; but
there is more work yet."
"Is there more work?" said Ariel. "Let me remind you, master, you
have promised me my liberty. I pray, remember, , I have done you
worthy service, told you no lies, made no mistakes, served you
without grudge or grumbling."
"How now!" said Prospero. "You do not recollect what a torment I
freed you from. Have you forgot the wicked witch Sycorax, who
with age and envy was almost bent double? Where was she born?
Speak; tell me."
"Sir, in Algiers," said Ariel.
"Oh, was she so?" said Prospero. "I must recount what you have
been, which I find you do not remember. This bad witch, Sycorax,
for her witchcrafts, too terrible to enter human hearing, was
banished from Algiers, and here left by the sailors; and because
you were a spirit too delicate to execute her wicked commands,
she shut you up in a tree, where I found you howling. This
torment, remember, I did free you from."
"Pardon me, dear master," said Ariel, ashamed to seem ungrateful;
"I will obey your commands."
"Do so," said Prospero, "and I will set you free." He then gave
orders what further he would have him do; and away went Ariel,
first to where he had left Ferdinand, and found him still sitting
on the grass in the same melancholy posture.
"Oh, my young gentleman," said Ariel, when he saw him, 'I will
soon move you. You must be brought, I find, for the Lady Miranda
to have a sight of your pretty person. Come, sir, follow me." He
then began singing:
"Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell."
ARIEL: "FULL FATHOM FIVE THY FATHER LIES"
 This strange news of his lost father soon roused the prince from
the stupid fit into which he had fallen. He followed in amazement
the sound of Ariel's voice, till it led him to Prospero and
Miranda, who were sitting under the shade of a large tree. Now
Miranda had never seen a man before, except her own father.
"Miranda," said Prospero, "tell me what you are looking at
"Oh, father," said Miranda, in a strange surprise, "surely that
is a spirit. Lord! how it looks about! Believe me, sir, it is a
beautiful creature. Is it not a spirit?"
"No, girl," answered her father; "it eats, and sleeps, and has
senses such as we have. This young man you see was in the ship.
He is somewhat altered by grief, or you might call him a handsome
person. He has lost his companions, and is wandering about to
Miranda, who thought all men had grave faces and gray beards like
her father, was delighted with the appearance of this beautiful
young prince; and Ferdinand, seeing such a lovely lady in this
desert place, and from the strange sounds he had heard, expecting
nothing but wonders, thought he was upon an enchanted island, and
that Miranda was the goddess of the place, and as such he began
to address her.
She timidly answered, she was no goddess, but a simple maid, and
was going to give him an account of herself, when Prospero
interrupted her. He was well pleased to find they admired each
other, for he plainly perceived they had (as we say) fallen in
love at first sight: but to try Ferdinand's constancy, he
resolved to throw some difficulties in their way: therefore,
advancing forward, he addressed the prince with a stern air,
telling him, he came to the island as a spy, to take it from him
who was the lord of it. "Follow me," said be. "I will tie your
neck and feet together. You shall drink sea-water; shell-fish,
withered roots, and husks of acorns shall be your food."
"No," said Ferdinand, "I will resist such entertainment till
 I see a more powerful enemy," and drew his sword; but Prospero,
waving his magic wand, fixed him to the spot where he stood, so
that he had no power to move.
Miranda hung upon her father, saying: "Why are you so ungentle?
Have pity, I will be his surety. This is the second man I ever
saw, and to me he seems a true one."
"Silence!" said the father. "One word more will make me chide
you, girl! What! an advocate for an impostor! You think there are
no more such fine men, having seen only him and Caliban. I tell
you, foolish girl, most men as far excel this as he does
Calliban." This he said to prove his daughter's constancy; and
"My affections are most humble. I have no wish to see a goodlier
"Come on, young man," said Prospero to the prince; "you have no
power to disobey me."
"I have not indeed," answered Ferdinand; and not knowing that it
was by magic he was deprived of all power of resistance,
 he was astonished to find himself so strangely compelled to
follow Prospero; looking back on Miranda as long as he could
see her, he said, as he went after Prospero into the cave, "My
spirits are all bound up, as if I were in a dream; but this man's
threats, and the weakness which I feel, would seem light to me if
from my prison I might once a day behold this fair maid."
Prospero kept Ferdinand not long confined within the cell: he
soon brought out his prisoner, and set him a severe task to
perform, taking care to let his daughter know the hard labor he had
imposed on him, and then pretending to go into his study, he
secretly watched them both.
Prospero had commanded Ferdinand to pile up some heavy
logs of wood. Kings' sons not being much used to laborious
work, Miranda soon after found her lover almost dying with
fatigue. "Alas!" said she, "do not work so hard; my father is
at his studies, he is safe for these three hours; pray rest yourself."
"Oh, my dear lady," said Ferdinand, "I dare not. I must
finish my task before I take my rest."
"If you will sit down," said Miranda, "I will carry your logs
the while." But this Ferdinand would by no means agree to.
Instead of a help Miranda became a hindrance, for they began
a long conversation, so that the business of log-carrying went
on very slowly.
Prospero, who had enjoined Ferdinand this task merely as a
trial of his love, was not at his books, as his daughter supposed,
but was standing by them invisible, to overhear what they said.
Ferdinand inquired her name, which she told, saying it was
against her father's express command she did so.
Prospero only smiled at this first instance of his daughter's
disobedience, for having by his magic art caused his daughter to
fall in love so suddenly, he was not angry that she showed her
love by forgetting to obey his commands. And he listened well
pleased to a long speech of Ferdinand's, in which he professed to
love her above all the ladies he ever saw.
In answer to his praises of her beauty, which he said exceeded
 all the women in the world, she replied: "I do not remember the
face of any woman, nor have I seen any more men than you, my
good friend, and my dear father. How features are abroad, I
know not; but, believe me, sir, I would not wish any companion
in the world but you, nor can my imagination form any shape
but yours that I could like. But, sir, I fear I talk to you too
freely, and my father's precepts I forget."
At this Prospero smiled, and nodded his head, as much as to say,
"This goes on exactly as I could wish; my girl will be Queen of
And then Ferdinand, in another fine long speech (for young
princes speak in courtly phrases), told the innocent Miranda he
was heir to the crown of Naples, and that she should be his queen.
"Ah! sir," said she, "I am a fool to weep at what I an, glad
of. I will answer you in plain and holy innocence. I am your
wife if you will marry me."
Prospero prevented Ferdinand's thanks by appearing visible
"Fear nothing, my child," said he; "I have overheard, and
approve of all you have said. And, Ferdinand, if I have too
severely used you, I will make you rich amends by giving you
my daughter. All your vexations were but trials of your love, and
you have nobly stood the test. Then as my gift, which your
true love has worthily purchased, take my daughter, and do not
smile that I boast she is above all praise." He then, telling them
that he had business which required his presence, desired they
would sit down and talk together till he returned; and this
command Miranda seemed not at all disposed to disobey.
When Prospero left them he called his spirit Ariel, who quickly
appeared before him, eager to relate what he had done with
Prospero's brother and the King of Naples. Ariel said he had
left them almost out of their senses with fear, at the strange
things he had caused them to see and hear. When fatigued
with wandering about, and famished for want of food, he had
suddenly set before them a delicious banquet, and then, just as
 they were going to eat, he appeared visible before them in the
shape of a harpy, a voracious monster with wings, and the feast
vanished away. Then, to their utter amazement, this seeming harpy
spoke to them, reminding them of their cruelty in driving
Prospero from his dukedom, and leaving him and his infant
daughter to perish in the sea, saying, that for this cause these
terrors were suffered to afflict them.
The King of Naples, and Antonio the false brother, repented the
injustice they had done to Prospero; and Ariel told his master he
was certain their penitence was sincere, and that he, though a
spirit, could not but pity them.
"Then bring them hither, Ariel," said Prospero: "if you, who are
but a spirit, feel for their distress, shall not I, who am a
human being like themselves, have compassion on them? Bring them
quickly, my dainty Ariel."
Ariel soon returned with the king, Antonio, and old Gonzalo in
their train, who had followed him, wondering at the wild music he
played in the air to draw them on to his master's presence. This
Gonzalo was the same who had so kindly provided Prospero formerly
with books and provisions, when his wicked brother left him, as
he thought, to perish in an open boat in the sea.
Grief and terror had so stupefied their senses that they did not
know Prospero. He first discovered himself to the good old
Gonzalo, calling him the preserver of his life; and then his
brother and the king knew that he was the injured Prospero.
Antonio, with tears and sad words of sorrow and true repentance,
implored his brother's forgiveness, and the king expressed his
sincere remorse for having assisted Antonio to depose his
brother: and Prospero forgave them; and, upon their engaging to
restore his dukedom, he said to the King of Naples, "I have a
gift in store for you, too"; and, opening a door, showed him his
son Ferdinand playing at chess with Miranda.
Nothing could exceed the joy of the father and the son at this
unexpected meeting, for they each thought the other drowned in
 "Oh wonder!" said Miranda, "what noble creatures these are! It
must surely be a brave world that has such people in it."
The King of Naples was almost as much astonished at the beauty
and excellent graces of the young Miranda as his son had been.
"Who is this maid?" said he; "she seems the goddess that has
parted us, and brought us thus together."
"No, sir," answered Ferdinand, smiling to find his father had
fallen into the same mistake that he had done when he first saw
Miranda, "she is a mortal, but by immortal Providence she is
mine; I chose her when I could not ask you, my father, for your
consent, not thinking you were alive. She is the daughter to this
Prospero, who is the famous Duke of Milan, of whose renown I have
heard so much, but never saw him till now: of him I have received
a new life: he has made himself to me a second father, giving me
this dear lady."
"Then I must be her father," said the king; "but, oh, how oddly
will it sound, that I must ask my child forgiveness."
"No more of that," said Prospero: "let us not remember our
troubles past, since they so happily have ended." And then
Prospero embraced his brother, and again assured him of his
forgiveness; and said that a wise overruling Providence had
permitted that he should be driven from his poor dukedom of
Milan, that his daughter might inherit the crown of Naples, for
that by their meeting in this desert island it had happened that
the king's son had loved Miranda.
These kind words which Prospero spoke, meaning to comfort his
brother, so filled Antonio with shame and remorse that he wept
and was unable to speak; and the kind old Gonzalo wept to see
this joyful reconciliation, and prayed for blessings on the young
Prospero now told them that their ship was safe in the harbor,
and the sailors all on board her, and that he and his daughter
would accompany them home the next morning. "In the mean time,"
says he, "partake of such refreshments as my poor cave affords;
and for your evening's entertainment I will relate
 the history of
my life from my first landing in this desert island." He then
called for Caliban to prepare some food, and set the cave in
order; and the company were astonished at the uncouth form and
savage appearance of this ugly monster, who (Prospero said) was
the only attendant he had to wait upon him.
Before Prospero left the island he dismissed Ariel from service,
to the great joy of that lively little spirit, who, though he had
been a faithful servant to his master, was always longing to
enjoy his free liberty, to wander uncontrolled in the air, like a
wild bird, under green trees, among pleasant fruits, and
"My quaint Ariel," said Prospero to the little sprite when he
made him free, "I shall miss you; yet you shall have your
"Thank you, my dear master," said Ariel; "but give me leave to
attend your ship home with prosperous gales, before you bid
farewell to the assistance of your faithful spirit; and then,
master, when I am free, how merrily I shall live!" Here Ariel
sang this pretty song:
"Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie:
There I crouch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough."
"ON THE BAT'S BACK I DO FLY"
Prospero then buried deep in the earth his magical books and
wand, for he was resolved never more to make use of the magic
art. And having thus overcome his enemies, and being reconciled
to his brother and the King of Naples, nothing now remained to
complete his happiness but to revisit his native land, to take
possession of his dukedom, and to witness the happy nuptials of
his daughter and Prince Ferdinand, which the king said should be
instantly celebrated with great splendor on their return to
Naples. At which place, under the safe convoy of the spirit Ariel
they, after a pleasant voyage, soon arrived.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics